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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Isaiah 11

Verses 1-16

The Shoot Out of the Dry Stock

Isaiah 11:1

I. In that story of the shoot out of the dry stock two thoughts, as it were, compete for utterance.

1. There is the thought that God in Christ finds us where we are and not other where, meets us in the weary day which our pilgrimage has actually reached, demands of us no impossible return to the beginning of our lives. He has a new growth for the cut-down stock. There is no uprooting, no fresh seed; but from the old tree springs the leaf of joy.

2. In that recovery which finds us where we are, there is a fresh upburst of that which is entirely original. It is a force from the root. The new thing which appears, appears not from the bark, appeal's not from the hewn surface, it witnesses to the vigour of the root and it repeats the power of its birth.

II. See how this was, first in the great fulfilment which was seen in the birth of our Lord from the Virgin Mary; when the Son of Mary, the Only Begotten Son of God, appeared upon the earth. There was the once majestic stem of Jesse reduced externally to a humble unknown family for which there was no room in the inn. Nothing could more strictly fulfil the picture of the hewn-down tree standing in the ruined forest than Israel the lowest and most wretched of the nations which still remained from that ancient world which the axe of Rome had levelled with the soil. In the old world, so disgraced, so confused, so burdened with heavy weights carried for a long journey, so ignorant of its direction, so wanting in hope in the ancient world, out of the midst of it and out of its lowliest plant, sprang in the birth of Christmas night that fresh young Life which has in fact remade society, given hope and joy again to mankind, such hope, such joy, as mankind had never known before, brought them back, brought them at last rather, into full communion with the freshness of the eternal.

I think it is good to note in other children in every child something of that wonderful power which belongs to One Who brings the promise of the future out of the ancient stock of human life.

III. Think, also, how this hope of Jesus Christ, this freshness out of the dry stock, can give to us courage in our social task.

There must be a seeking after reasons and meanings. What is the Church for? What is the State for? and what am I for in this short pilgrimage which will so soon be gone, and where I may be a worker and supporter and in part a guide, seeing the road which others see, or I may be a mere slave upon the track, a slave who does no work?

P. N. Waggett, Church Times, vol. Leviticus 4:0 January, 1907, p. 22.

Illustration. Do you remember the story that is told about St. Patrick? that represents also the salvation of Jesus Christ springing up in the midst of our ancient race. Patrick, they say, was born when his parents were fleeing from the heathen persecutors of their race, fleeing from them somewhere in Wales or farther north; and they were lost and panic-stricken in a desert place where there is no water, and, behold, the child is born, and how shall he be baptized in a dry land where there is no spring? And the priest who is to baptize him is himself blind and cannot go to seek or give any encouragement and leading to the bewildered train of fugitives. But the blind priest takes the little child's hand and with it blesses the dry soil, and up there springs in this land of fear and terror and loneliness fresh water, in which the child is baptized who is to be the apostle of Ireland.

P. N. Waggett, Church Times, 4 January, 1907, p. 22.

References. XI. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 270. XI. 1-9. Church Times, vol. xxx. 1892, p. 804. X. 1-10. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 66. XI. 2. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 132. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 59. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 133. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah, p. 89. XI. 3-10. Ibid. p. 92. XI. 4. J. H. Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day, p. 267. XI. 5. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah, I.-XII. p. 96.

A Little Child Shall Lead Them ( christmas )

Isaiah 11:6

You will remember the context of this verse. Isaiah is drawing a picture of redeemed nature. Under the rule of the promised Prince of David's line, 'the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling, and' as a charming finishing touch to the idyllic scene 'a little child shall lead them'. I do not think that when Isaiah talks of bears and lions and reptiles, he means fierce and cruel and cunning men. When he talks of the beasts he means the beasts.

I. Christmas is the glorification of childhood. It is the fulfilment of Isaiah's vision. It proclaims peace on earth, peace 'among men of God's good will' (for this is the true reading of the angel's song); and the Prince of Peace, who leads the peacemakers, the men after God's own heart, is a little child. That little child grew up to teach us that unless we accept the kingdom of God as little children, we shall not enter therein.

II. 'The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.' It is a majestic description of the intellectual endowments of humanity. 'The Holy Spirit,' says Gregory of Tours, in words which may sound rather startling, 'is the God of the intellect rather than of the heart.' This splendid enumeration of the intellectual gifts of the Messiah leads on at once to the idyllic picture which we have mentioned the wild animals tamed and gentle, and led by a little child. It is, I think, a very noble and a very striking contrast. The ideal Ruler of David's line, on whom the Spirit of the Lord shall pour all His choicest intellectual gifts, shall found a kingdom of universal peace, gentleness, and confiding innocence. We are very near the heart of Christianity here.

III. In a very fascinating mediaeval religious book, the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, the wise and saintly authoress says, 'To me was shown no higher stature than childhood'. Not, of course, that we should remain children in understanding; not that when we have become men, we should refuse to put away childish things; but that there should remain much of the child-character in us to the end. Christianity was founded (I say it reverently) by a young man; it is a religion for the young, and for those who remain young in heart, though their hair is grey. Are not faith and hops and love, the Christian virtues, essentially the temper of the child the boy and girl? There is something very charming and inspiring in the faith, hope, and charity which have survived prolonged contact with the world, and experience of its ways. The religion of the devout recluse is good, but the religion of the good man of the world is better.

In celebrating the birth of Christ at Bethlehem we are doing homage to the child-nature, which the Son of God took upon Him, not because it was a necessary preliminary to His adult ministry, but because it was right and seemly that the Son of God should appear on earth as a little child.

W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-7, p. 11.

References. XI. 6. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 43. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Plain Preaching for Poor People (9th Series), p. 17. E. Medley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 116. G. G. Bradley, ibid. vol. li. 1897, p. 28. B. Wilberforce, ibid. vol. lvii. 1900, p. 90. R. J. Kyd, ibid. vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 53. R. Winterbotham, Sermons Preached in Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh, p. 30. J. T. Stannard, The Divine Humanity, p. 155. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 47. XL 9. J. H. Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day, p. 142. W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 372. W. H. Lyttelton, Missionary Sermons at Hagley, p. 108. XL 9, 10. H. D. Rawnsley, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 204. XI. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2542. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 295; see also Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 93. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 8. F. R. H. H. Noyes, Plain Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 330.

The Remnant of God's People

Isaiah 11:2

The text is very cheering and tender in itself, and especially in its connexion. Triumphant scenes have been described. Millennium glory; the world at the feet of Christ in willing and joyful subjection. But amidst all this glory the little 'remnant' is not forgotten. The remnant is forgotten in the world's triumphs and gala days, not in God's.

I. The Remnant. The 'remnant' is a favourite word with God. Let it not think it is thrown away, or lost sight of. A 'second time' He sets His hand to recover it. Perhaps it was too poor, weak, thoughtless even wedded to the strange land, at the last gathering. He will not only glean, but go back to fields already reaped and gleaned. You cannot be too poor, despised, sinful, for Christ to seek and save you. He has no 'residuum'. He counts the very dust of His temple of humanity.

II. The Scattered Remnant. From Assyria, Egypt, etc. You may be scattered in other lands, among strangers; away from all old influences for good, from old habits, associations, interests, etc.; but His eye is as fully on you, and His heart is as wholly devoted to you, as if you were in the very centre of them all. Nay, if possible, yet more on that account When father and mother forsake the Lord takes up.

III. Recovered from the Grasp of Strong Enemies. Those powers named were the strongest and most grinding of all the powers known to the ancient world. But His weak remnant should be recovered from their oppression. Worldliness, evil passions, strong drink all that is most tyrannical in sin may be your master; you weak as a woman in their grasp; but God is stronger than they. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'

IV. The Whole Remnant. How the Prophet names those powers one by one, as if he would bring a special message of hope and strength to every ear individually. 'Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.'

Reference. XI. 11, 12. C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 264.


Isaiah 11:13

Ephraim means here the kingdom of Israel, or of the ten tribes; and Judah means the southern kingdom, that of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were rivals; each was jealous of the other, because they were so evenly matched in power and influence. A weak tribe like Simeon was not jealous of either Ephraim or Judah.

I. Human nature is weak and sinful, and therefore the world is everywhere full of envy and jealousy. Sometimes unholy envy still cleaves a Christian nation into two, as it did the Hebrew nation long ago. Neighbouring cities are sometimes rivals. The successful man in the work of life is envied. Jealousy is even worse among professional men than it is among merchants. The same bad spirit is sometimes shown in Church life. Why was it, for example, that the chief priests and elders of the Jews accused Jesus so unjustly before Pilate, the Roman Governor? It is said in the Gospel narrative that Pilate 'knew that for envy they had delivered Him'.

Even in the bosom of families, and at the fireside, where all ought to be love, there is sometimes the same wickedness. It was the envy of Cain that led him to murder his brother Abel.

II. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking in this chapter about the reign of the Messiah, and the blessedness which that reign will bring to its subjects. He says that when the kingdom of God triumphs, envy and jealousy will depart out of the hearts of men. The ancient rivalry of Judah and Ephraim will be at an end, and all will be harmony and love.

III. Here is a double remedy for envy in one's own heart two prescriptions, which ought both to be taken at once.

1. Think much about your mercies. Envious persons compare themselves in an unkindly way with those who are more successful than themselves, forgetting all the while that there are many who are less successful. If I am a believer in Christ, I am the possessor of 'all things,' and it is therefore unreasonable that I should envy any one.

2. Seek a renewed heart. The natural heart is evil, and it leads us to envy and grieve at the good of our neighbour. But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, if we ask Him, will give us a new heart. The Holy Spirit will help us to entertain lowly thoughts of ourselves, and to learn to admire what is good in others.

C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 200.

References. XI. 13. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 17. XII. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 928. XII. 1-6. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 1. XII. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2541. XII. 3. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 64. Sir G. R. Fetherston, A Garden Eastward, p. 66. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 23. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 235. XII. 3-6. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 100. XIII. 12. J. Vickery, Ideals of Life, p. 61. J. G. Greenhough, The Cross and the Dice-Box, p. 133. XIV. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2612.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.